woman in construction

Kelly Friel, from industrial tool supplier Zoro, tackles the issue of gender diversity in construction, and discusses what we can do to help boost the number of women seeking careers in the industry.

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone in construction to hear that it’s a remarkably male-dominated sector, with just 11 per cent of all roles being held by women (WISE).

And, that number doesn’t even take into account the number of women who work in administrative roles rather than on-site — some sources estimate that up to 99 per cent of all on-site workers are men (Guardian).

When you look at these statistics, it’s easy to see why so many women view construction as an exclusive boys’ club that isn’t for them. As a result of this lack of diversity, many capable and talented women may be missing out on a rewarding career that they may be very well suited for, which is clearly not right.

Additionally, we’re currently facing a serious skills shortage in this country, and we urgently need more qualified tradespeople to fill the gap. Encouraging more women into building and construction could help to widen the talent pool and will ensure that we’ve got enough skilled people to keep the industry afloat.

So, what can be done to help rectify the gender imbalance? In this article, I’ll explore a few ideas which could encourage women to choose a career in construction.

Creating a welcoming environment

Many women have serious reservations about the sort of attitudes their colleagues on-site might have about them, and these concerns should be taken seriously. It’s not enough to simply expect female builders to ‘toughen up’ and deal with discrimination or harassment in silence: employers and site managers need to have clear policies about on-site behaviour. They should also make sure that all employees receive adequate training, so they understand what constitutes discrimination, and what sort of behaviour is and isn’t appropriate.

Provide the correct equipment and facilities

The battle doesn’t end once a woman is hired: the lack of diversity on construction sites can mean that women’s basic needs and rights often aren’t catered to properly. Even essential facilities, like changing rooms and toilets, often aren’t provided, which further encourages the idea that sites are men-only zones. If employers are going to show that they are serious about championing diversity, then they need to reflect this by building facilities for women, even if it’s just a couple of employees.

Additionally, employers mustn’t forget about providing suitable work gear. Women are likely to need safety equipment and work wear — such as boots, gloves, hard hats, and hi-vis wear — in different sizes and styles to men, so employers should be ready to offer these, rather than assuming that female workers can simply use styles designed for men. This will help to create a more inclusive culture on site.

Offer training, apprenticeships and mentoring

Many companies are already fully aware that a diverse workforce brings plenty of benefits, and are keen to hire more women. But, there is often only a small pool of qualified female candidates to draw from, which can make hiring tricky.

One solution to this problem is to offer apprenticeships, work experience opportunities, and training schemes to women, as this will give them an opportunity to earn a qualification while they work.  Essentially, this allows employers to nurture female talent from within the company, instead of trying to hire them from an incredibly narrow pool of talent.

Mentoring schemes also offer a great way to achieve this. Having an established female employee as a mentor can make new female recruits feel less alone when they first start work, and it can help new employees learn the ropes faster, increasing the opportunity for progression.

Raising awareness and educating young people

To increase the number of women who hope to pursue a career in construction, we need to make sure that women and girls are aware of the opportunities that are out there from an early age. Although employers and site managers can have an important role to play, there’s a lot that educators can do to raise awareness of construction roles, too.

One way to achieve this is to boost the profile of women already working in construction, perhaps by sending female builders into schools and colleges to show young women and girls that it’s not just for men. They can also help to raise awareness of the fact that nowadays, thanks to advancements in technology, lots of roles don’t necessarily involve hard manual labour and so can be done by anyone. Construction firms can also work with educators to offer open days to girls and young women, which can help inspire interest in construction careers.

While the numbers of women in construction roles might be shockingly low, the good news is that there are steps that employers and educators can take to show women that building work has a lot to offer. By working together to raise awareness, and by ensuring that sites are welcoming to women, we can help to close the gender gap in construction.

Kelly FrielAbout the author

Kelly is a Digital Product Manager at online tools and equipment retailer Zoro, which specialises in supplying a wide range of trades and industries. After working for a competitor within the same sector for 16 years, where she worked her way up through the organisation, she moved to Zoro to take on her current role in 2016.